Diahann Gordon Harrison
A probe is being conducted into more than a dozen cases of abuse at children's homes and places of safety within the past seven months.
This was confirmed Thursday afternoon by Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison, who said the 17 incidents reportedly occurred between March and October 21.
They include physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect of duty by staff at the facilities.
"We have all the files as active priority files, which means that the internal investigations have been commenced by the Office of the Children's Advocate and that includes meeting with the children who are at the heart of these allegations, collecting the requisite statements and other forms of evidence to determine where in fact the truth lies, and also to push the matter too as far as it can go. So, if there are accountability measures that need to be taken, those will be pursued. If there are recommendations, however, which need to be made on a broader systemic level, then those recommendations will be shared with the relevant authorities in due course, once the investigations are complete," Mrs Gordon Harrison said in an interview with Radio Jamaica News.
She said the reports of abuse are worrying because "we wouldn't want to be taking children from unsatisfactory home environments and placing them in institutions where they are still exposed to harm."
The children's advocate said the reported incidents highlight the need for greater accountability at children's homes and places of safety.
She noted that additional training for staff at the facilities is necessary.
"There is a recognition that we need to have the persons who are working in these facilities properly trained, not just at the outset when they are being placed into a facility, but there has to be continuing sensitisation, continuing exposure to what is expected, and continuing accountability systems in terms of the standards that are to be observed."
"What we have discovered, and this really has been a feature of not just the situation in Jamaica, but certainly in other Caribbean territories, is that you have somebody who needs a job who happens to work in a facility, or sometimes you will have persons who are not necessarily expected to have direct contact with the children, but because they are in the home that contact becomes inevitable. So we need to be looking at upscaling all members of staff," Mrs Gordon Harrison insisted.